Sea to Summit Insulated Air Mat & Ember Eb1 Quilt review: A minimal sleep system.
Treating your air mattress and sleeping bag as a complete system, rather than two separate entities, frees up a considerable amount of space on your bikepacking rig. It also helps trim back valuable weight. We head into the hills with Sea To Summit’s Ember Eb1 quilt and UltraLight Insulated Mattress, to find out if this lean setup is enough for a comfortable night’s sleep.
We’ve discussed the quilt versus sleeping bag debate before. To the uninitiated, quilts are designed to run in tandem with a sleeping pad; as such, they can do away with traditional underside baffling that might otherwise be compressed, along with nixing superfluous details like zips and hoods.The result is an especially minimal ‘bag’ that can be run fully open in warmer conditions, or cinched more tightly around your air mattress to trap warmth when conditions require. We’re the first to admit that they’re not for everyone. But if you want to save weight and packsize, they’re hard to beat.
Sea to Summit Insulated Air Mat
I’m going to come out and say it. The Ultralight Insulated Mattress has nudged the pricier Therm-a-rest NeoAir Xlite as my favourite air mattress – see our sleeping pad roundup here. Although it’s not as light, nor does it pack down quite as small, its 480g weight (compared to the NeoAir Xlite’s 350g), is far from porky. Bear in mind too that this is the Sea to Summit’s insulated version, with a quoted R value of 3.3 (similar to that of the standard Xlite). The standard model trims off the better part of a 100g, costs less, and may well be adequate if you’re bikepacking in warmer climes.
So why am I so enamoured? For a start, it inflates extremely quickly and expunges air even more speedily. At the end of a long day’s bikepacking – particularly at altitude – this is something for which I’m particularly grateful. In comparison, the NeoAir seems to take an age to blow up. This is thanks to a clever valve; a port allows both a one way option for inflating the Ultralight (unlike the Therm-a-rest’s screw style open valve), with a button for slowly releasing air, allowing the pressure to be fine tuned when you’re settling in for the night. As for packing it away, the whole valve cap can be pulled out, completely deflating the mattress in a instant. This makes rolling the mat up to an efficient size, that slips easily into its hardy sleeve, a quick and painless process.
Just as importantly, the mattress has proved more hardwearing than its Ultralight name might suggest. Over the course of four months, mine has seen duty in the Peruvian Andes, across the Bolivian Altiplano, and in both the desert and grassy meadows of Northern New Mexico. Placed on a piece of Tyvek or Cuben groundcloth, I’ve not had a puncture so far, with no delamination to report either.
The design itself features 181 air sprung cells, which blow up to a height of 5cm – rather luxurious, compared to the thinner air mattresses of yesteryear. In terms of sleeping comfort, I found these dimples conformed far better to the shape of my body than longitudinal baffles, now matter how much I wiggled around. Unlike some other designs, there’s no noisy crinkling, or slipping around thanks to a somewhat grippy, anti-bacterial coating.
All in all, I can find little to fault this mattress. Given the extra warmth it provides, I’m happy to pay the nominal cost in weight and pack size for the insulated version, especially as I’m often camping in cooler parts of the world.
- Weight 480g
- Size 183x55cm (72×21.5in)
- Packed size 10x23cm (4x9in)
- Price $129.95
- Place of Manufacture China
- Contact Sea to Summit
Sea to Summit Ember Eb1 Quilt
Next, the Ember Eb1 Quilt.
The Eb1 is the leaner sibling to Sea to Summit’s warmer Eb2. Its comfort range is quoted between 4c (40F) to 10c (50F), placing its intended use strict in the realm of summer and shoulder season camping, unless you’re at camping at low elevation – not that this stopped me from using it in the Andes at 5000m. As you can see from the pictures below, the 415g Eb1 packs down remarkably small. The first image shows it packed with the supplied compression sack (kindly modelled by my 3 year old son Sage for a sense of scale). The second, stowed in my favourite Seat to Summit Event Compression Dry Sack (XS), along with a Thermalite Reactor liner, my merino leggings, a thin merino top, and the wool socks I sleep in. Impressive.
As we’ve mentioned in our previous Quilt v Sleeping bag post, quilts rely on an adjustable cinching system to pull them tight and snug around your air mattress. As such, they’re more fiddly to set up, especially when you’re new to the system. This is true of the Eb1. Adjusting the straps that run beneath the pad requires some time. And given that they’re non elasticated, it’s all the more important to find the exact right length – roomy enough so you can move around the quilt, but snug enough to keep out drafts. Once you’ve figured this out, press studs at the end of straps mean they can quickly be removed – the quilt can even be snapped together like a more traditional sleeping bag. If you’re worried about cold feet, the footbox has an elasticated cord to bungee it in too. Of course, if you’re blessed with warmer climates, you can open it right up, allowing ventilation around your tootsies.
I took mine on a 3 week ride traverse of the high Andes – between Bolivia and Peru – camping regularly at altitudes between 4000 and 5000m. I’ll admit, given the conditions, I wasn’t exactly cosy. For a reasonable night’s sleep, I supplemented the bag with a 260g Thermolite Reactor Compact Plus liner – highly recommended, in its own right – along with thermal underwear, a down jacket, and pretty much all my clothes… But although this wasn’t a fair test, it goes to show what you can get away with if you layer up and use what you’re already carrying.
Back home in New Mexico, the Eb1 fared far better, proving the ideal summer option for multi-day rides. I’d still recommend sleeping in lightweight thermals or a thin liner, simply because lying directly on an air mattress isn’t exactly pleasant, especially if you’re a little sweaty. Given the lack of hood, donning a hat or a down jacket that has one may be advisable too, depending on ambient temperatures. Again, I see this as a good re-use of gear you’re already packing, rather than a limitation.
My main issue – and this is levelled more at quilts in general than the Eb1 – is that as someone who likes to sleep on my side in the foetal position, I find a quilt tethered to a mattress forces me into a straighter position than I’m used too.
In terms of build quality, I was impressed. The Eb1 uses 750+ Loft Ultradry Down (90/10 premium duck down) which means it should handle damp and humid conditions better than some, with a hard wearing nylon shell. The fill weight is 220g (8oz) and there’s a large version available.
- Weight 415g
- Size Head 130cm, Foot 85cm
- Compressed volume 2.1l
- Price $229
- Place of Manufacture China
- Contact Sea to Summit
Buy online at Amazon
As I’ve mentioned, I love the Insulated Ultralight Mattress: it’s usurped the Thermarest NeoAir as my pad of choice. It’s both comfortable and hard wearing. It packs down relatively small, it’s light – and best of all – it’s incredibly quick to inflate and easy to pack away. Given the extra insulation and boost in comfort, I’m happy to pay the nominal cost in weight and pack size for the insulated version, especially as I’m often camping in cooler climates.
While I like the Ember Eb1 quilt, I don’t love it in quite the same way. A part of this revolves around my own sleeping habits. I like the ball up in a cocoon when I sleep, especially if it’s cold. A quilt needs to be cinched carefully around an air mattress to prevent drafts, encouraging a straighter sleeping position. Given my propensity to wiggle on my side, it’s possible that some elasticity in the straps may have helped.
But as quilts go, there’s a lot to like. While taking it away to the high Andes was clearly beyond its remit, it’s been completely at home in New Mexico. For summer camping, the Eb1’s weight and packsize really are hard to beat. Teamed with a mattress, it’s helped reduce the size of my sleep system to the very minimum, without encroaching on comfort.
Although quilts aren’t necessarily the right choice for everyone, it’s great to see a company with the presence of Sea to Summit taking them into the mainstream; the Ember Eb1 is certainly a welcome addition to offerings from smaller, predominantly US-based companies that we’ve reviewed in the past.